Ahead of The Tokyo Ballet’s official 50th anniversary on Aug. 30, its website is already garlanded with tributes from international dancers and choreographers such as Sweden’s Mats Ek and Britain’s Akram Khan — and even from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

For dance fans, however, the highlight will be an Anniversary Gala staged in Tokyo from Aug. 29-31, followed by a short tour in September.

As the company’s newly appointed artistic adviser, Vladimir Malakhov, a guest dancer for more than 20 years, put it recently, “This will be a very special event. I am honored to be invited to perform along with Sylvie Guillem and Manuel Legris, who also have long ties to The Tokyo Ballet.”

The Anniversary Gala opens with Malakhov performing “Petrushka,” a Russian folk ballet by Igor Stravinsky premiered in Paris in 1911 with choreography by Michel Fokine and Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role of a puppet come to life.

Next up will be one of the best-known excerpts in classical ballet, “The Kingdom of the Shades” from Ludwig Minkus’ “La Bayadere” (“The Temple Dancer”), which was first staged in 1877 with choreography by Marius Petipa. The piece features Mizuka Ueno, a principal ballerina with The Tokyo Ballet, and one of its rising stars, Dan Tsukamoto, its newest principal dancer.

Ahead of her performance, Ueno, who joined the company in 2004, credited the international ballet masters who coached her in the role, saying, “Natalia Makarova and Olga Evreinoff taught me when The Tokyo Ballet performed this piece for the first time in 2009. Makarova taught me to dance simply so that the performance will become highly artistic.”

Previously, Makarova had staged “The Kingdom of the Shades” for the American Ballet Theatre in 1974, 11 years after Rudolf Nureyev did so with The Royal Ballet in London. Later, as artistic director of Paris Opera Ballet in 1992, Nureyev staged the full four-act “La Bayadere” for the first time in the West since the 1917 Russian Revolution. It was his last public appearance before his death.

Meanwhile, another Anniversary Gala highlight will be “Spring and Fall” by Tokyo Ballet stalwart U.S. national John Neumeier, the head of Hamburg Ballet since 1973, who has created two works for the company. First performed by The Tokyo Ballet in February 2000, this will showcase up-and-coming ballerina Kanako Oki. Next up will be the famous pas de deux from Act 3 of John Cranko’s “Onegin.” This will feature Mika Yoshioka and Manuel Legris, a 20-year star of Paris Opera Ballet who is now artistic director of the Vienna State Ballet.

Finally, to bring the Anniversary Gala to a close, legendary French prima ballerina, Sylvie Guillem, will dance “Bolero” by the French-born, formerly Swiss-based choreographer Maurice Bejart (1927-2007) — a signature piece ever since the company first staged it more than 30 years ago. With the recent announcement of Guillem’s retirement next year — when she, too, will turn 50 — that promises to be a bitter-sweet crescendo to remember.

Looking back prior to The Tokyo Ballet’s upcoming birthday party, however, Norio Takahashi, director of the Japan Performing Arts Foundation, made special mention of Tadatsugu Sasaki, the company’s longtime director who was recently awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government. “Since the beginning,” he said, “Sasaki has believed that if we were good enough for the world, we should be good enough for Japan — and our policy will not change for the next 50 years. So I think Japanese audiences will continue to enjoy watching The Tokyo Ballet, which is now polished by its rising number of overseas performances.”

The Tokyo Ballet 50th Anniversary Gala runs Aug. 29-31 at NHK Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo, then tours to Osaka (Sept. 2), Tsu City, Mie Prefecture (Sept. 5) and Toyoma City (Sept. 7). For more details, visit www.nbs.or.jp.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.